Impressing the boss has always been the surest route to career advancement in banking's rigid chain of command.
But at a handful of banks, it may become necessary to win the approval of underlings too.
Banks such as CoreStates Financial Corp., BankAmerica Corp., and Chase Manhattan Corp. are experimenting with "360 degree" or multisource feedback-an approach to performance evaluations that factors in the assessments of a worker's peers and subordinates as well as his or her supervisors.
These institutions are following such large nonbank companies as Federal Express Corp., General Electric Co., and Motorola, which have helped turn 360-degree feedback into a 1990s management fad.
While no banks are committed to making this approach companywide policy yet, it's clear that they are heading in that direction, albeit slowly and cautiously.
"Is it the goal of (CoreStates chief executive officer) Terry Larsen that every employee get feedback from those who work with them, both from below and from above," said Nelson Parrish, CoreState's vice president for cultural implementation.
Mr. Larsen's sentiments put him ahead of many of his colleagues.
"Banks have grown up in a control and command structure," said Charles Wendel, president of New York-based Financial Institutions Consulting. "Junior people just don't criticize senior people."
Plus, the barriers against rolling out such a program are somewhat daunting.
For example, at CoreStates, where about 1,200 of the bank's 19,000 employees have been assessed with 360-degree feedback, it takes between 30 to 60 days for an evaluation to be prepared.
A typical review is based on the opinions of up to 10 bank employees. Those opinions are then synthesized into a final two-page report.
"The process is still time-consuming and relatively costly," said Mark R. Edwards, the chief executive officer of Teams Inc., a Tempe, Ariz. consulting firm that helps companies develop multisource programs.
But Mr. Edwards, whose firm has trademarked the term "360-degree feedback," said that the cost of creating a single evaluation has dropped from $750 in the mid-1970s to $50 today.
Mr. Wendel argued that bosses would be wise to hear the candid comments of their underlings and to establish structures that allow for it.
"A lot of younger bankers are concerned that their bosses are spending too much time in meetings rather than being externally focused," he said. "There is tremendous frustration that nonbanks are doing things that they ought to be doing."
Executives with the few banks that are trying multisource evaluations pointed out that they are simply using the tools to help employees develop their skills.
"I do see that it will evolve into a tool to evaluate employees, but it's still too early to tell when that will be," said Maureen Hilts, a BankAmerica vice president who oversees a pilot project at her institution.
If the day ever comes, it could alter the way that managers and their subordinates relate to one another.
"Managers used to get results by leaving dead bodies along the road, but with 360 feedback, you can't afford to do that," Mr. Edwards said.